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Exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’s work at Fondation Beyeler addresses key themes

September 6, 2011

A visitor looks at the artwork “A l’infini” (2008) by French artist Louise Bourgeois. AP Photo/Keystone/Georgios Kefalas.

BASEL.- To mark her 100th birthday, the Fondation Beyeler is devoting an homage to Louise Bourgeois (25.12.1911 – 31.5.2010), one of the most significant and influential artist personalities of our times. Comprising about 20 exhibits, some of them multipartite, the exhibition represents a concentrated selection from the artist’s oeuvre and address its key themes: an involvement with other artists, a concern with her own biography, and the translation of emotions into objects of art. In addition to works and series of works from renowned international museums and private collections, more recent, previously unexhibited works – including the late cycle À l’infini (2008) – are on view. These are supplemented by groups of pieces from the Beyeler Collection. Especially revealing insights are provided by juxtapositions with paintings by Fernand Léger and Francis Bacon, and sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. These artists, with whom Bourgeois had a special relationship, were influential and inspiring for her.

Fondation Beyeler’s homage to Louise Bourgeois focuses on her amazing ability to cast a spell over the viewer with her art’s poetic moods, trains of association, and unique manner of visual narration. For a long period she negated the opposition, so central to modern art, between figuration and abstraction, and enriched contemporary art with a highly personal brand of objective meaning. This holds especially for the legendary Cells, two examples of which are on view, including the largest in scale, Passage dangereux (1997).

Born in Paris, Bourgeois united several epochs in her personality and biography: that of the proud and sensitive Parisian bourgeoisie, which gradually declines in the course of the first half of the 20th century and, for her, was embodied in the problematic figure of her father; her experience of Parisian modernism as an art student; the shift of the art scene from Paris to New York, in which she was materially involved after her move there in 1938; and finally, the inward and outward turmoil in the U.S. of the day, including the great movement for equal rights to which she decisively contributed.

All of these lines of development and diverse experiences combined to shape her personality. This is the sense in which the key work in the exhibition, À l’infini, should be understood – fourteen etchings each of which features two converging lines. The basic form of this impressive and moving work derives from the type of cloth that consists of at least two threads and can be infinitely reproduced and varied. Seen in this light, history, too, might be understood as a tissue spun from threads of memory. The symbol Bourgeois found for spinning filaments and eternal renewal was the spider, which she associated with her mother.

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